St. Elmo Gopaul made me the woman I am today. Without him, I really do believe that I would not be the person I am. He was my hero, my teacher, my parent, my example of what an exemplary man is. I sometimes get people who ask me why I don’t hate men.
After all, they argue, you spent almost twenty-seven years married to a man who betrayed you on every level. Shouldn’t you hate them?
My answer is always the same.
The world is deep, but it is also wide, and every day, there are bad, evil men (and women) committing all kinds of horror and cruelty. But every day, there are men like my father, who are making this world a better place, and treating others the way they want to be treated.
My father was human, and he made mistakes like anybody else. But he never hurt my mother, he never hurt me, he never hurt my children. He carried himself with dignity and grace.
And it wasn’t that he was a weakling or a pacifist. He wasn’t afraid to go to battle for a cause. He was strict. He held himself and the rest of the world to a higher standard. He knew that this country could be more than the world had judged it to be. He knew that education was the key to that, and he knew that holding teachers and administrators to a higher standard was the lynchpin of improving literacy in Trinidad.
So I must sincerely and humbly thank Professor Rhoda Reddock for her 22nd of June 2016 article in the Daily Express about my father’s life. She called my father “a clever tactician who had run the Trinidad and Tobago Teacher’s Union, which is his legacy, almost as a fiefdom, combining those energies with his function as a prominent member on the General Council of the People’s National Movement,” Reddock wrote of my father. Twenty years after my father’s passing, and I still find it bittersweet to read about his influence and impact on those around me.
There are many (many, many, many…) people who have been asking when book two will come out. And I’ve been dangling carrots, promising that the book is out there (well, inside of me) and it will come. But it’s going to be a few more months before I can really sit down and commence the writing. I need to get the documentary off the ground first, and truth be told, I don’t want to spread myself so thin that I give only percentages of my attention to every project (and thus produce a half-ass movie and a half-ass book). I give 100% to whatever I do.
You know me, I’ve got a lot more to say, I just need you to bear with me for a little bit longer.
Book Launch Party
It finally happened! After countless delays and trials, my book, No Regrets is finally officially on the market. We had our first lecture and book signing event on Saturday, August 6th, 2016. We kept getting pressure from various organizations that wanted to host it at a grand location, but the truth was that I was feeling nervous.
My father, St. Elmo Gopaul, was a natural orator, but I had never addressed a large audience about something so important. I’d been teaching and lecturing to children for years, and I had spoken in small, intimate settings about my experiences, but this was my first (live) address on domestic violence and my own life story.
Life is a learning process, and after writing a long, detailed, prepared speech, I discovered—half-way through my own lecture—that I should have just written down bullet points of what I wanted to talk about.
So I abandoned the speech and started speaking from the heart, only occasionally glancing at the paper in my hand. It seemed to go much smoother after that.
We had the whole thing filmed. Breaking with convention, I asked that the videographer not edit the feed. I wanted it raw and real.
You see, this country has too many slick, carefully edited speeches by politicians that talk big but never carry through. I’d rather people saw me as I am—human, making mistakes, getting hit upside the head by life—but always willing to get back up to keep trying, to keep fighting, and to bring about change.
I was exhausted. I don’t handle jet-lag and travel that well to begin with, but as soon as the plane touched down Wednesday night it was go, go, go! In retrospect, I probably should have politely declined all invitations and gone to bed early, but again, this is all new to me and life is a series of lessons.
Serene, my assistant, had everything set to go for Saturday, and one of the things that she arranged was for me to have my (first ever) professional makeup artist do my face. On a personal note, I learned quite a bit about the art of makeup, but on a larger note, I discovered that looking your best is a great confidence booster when you’re about to do public speaking.
There are a so many people to thank for making it a great event. One of the things I learned through this process of writing a book and founding a nonprofit is that it really does take a village to get a movement going.
First off, I’ve got to begin with Carol Matroo from the TT Newsday. When I announced that I had written my memoirs, she championed my story, and gave me a platform to raise the issue of domestic abuse before a national audience.
And thank you to Bobie-Lee Dixon, from the TT Guardian, for writing a great article about me for her paper. She is a great reporter and a terrific lady.
I would like to thank Carl Ryan, MPhil, BA (Hon), Cert. Ed, RMN, MHSP. He reached out to me after the article was published and introduced me to the NICER FOUNDATION.
I need to thank Ms. Laura Pascall, the driving force behind ROAT (Reach Out And Touch). She has been a valuable mentor and role model. This is my first nonprofit I’ve ever run, and the learning curve is steep.
The work they do is important to our country as each strives to flank the problem of violence in the community, whether it is interpersonal conflict or violence on the street.
I want, so much, to thank Ms. Britt, and all the women of St. Joseph’s Convent. They came out to support me personally as friends and peers, but also as good Christian women who want to promote kindness in this world. Thank you.
I must thank my aunt, Joan Kanglee, for letting me host this event at her place. I wanted it to be small(ish) and intimate, and having the launch and tour start from my roots felt fitting. I’ve also got to thank my niece and assistant, Serene, who got the whole thing off the ground.
It’s not easy—no it’s impossible—to plan an event from outside the country without help, and as I prepared from my end in California, Serene became my hands and eyes in St. Joseph’s, getting things ready. Thanks, Cupcake!
I also need to give a shout-out to all the people who made me look like a goddess. They say that when you’re nervous about speaking, that you should picture the audience naked, but really, what you should do is splurge on a team to make you look and feel like a million bucks.
First, I want to give props to my girl, Christine Holder, who is probably the best seamstress on the island. She put together that gorgeous dress I’m wearing in a matter of days. She also designed the suit I was wearing on the jacket cover of my book. She sews fast and she sews well. Any of you who want your clothes to look good and fit well, give her a call (868-725-1176).
And if you liked the design of my dress in these pictures, give Julian (Pro) Passee a call. He’s designed dresses for the who’s-who of Port of Spain for thirty-years. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the Louis Vuitton of the island: his designs are clean cut, elegant, and eye-catching. (868-753-8191).
Shereena Patrick is just an all-around great person, and as you can see, a great hair stylist. I am so, so picky about my hair, which is why I wouldn’t go to anyone else. (868-751-0153).
La Donna Kong did my makeup using MAC cosmetics. She taught me a lot and she made me look so elegant. If you want to get your inner-goddess on, give her a call (868-717-3282).
And to those who know me, you know I have to mention my gratitude and pride in my children. I need to thank them for surviving the abuse with me and for standing by me as I strive to help other survivors.
There were many others who helped to make this a great book launch, and if I missed you, I’m sorry for that, but know that I do thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for helping me along the way.
Status Update on the Documentary
A quick announcement: after Easter, I will be going back down to Trinidad to start preliminary work and filming for the documentary. There are many things to juggle when making a film, so lots of things are still up in the air, but for those that wanted to know what the status of the project, I wanted to keep you all in the loop. And if you are someone who wants to participate in the process—perhaps even tell your own story—feel free to contact me at [email protected]
Making the World A Better Place
Like the rest of the globe, Trinidad and Tobago has problems: poverty; gang violence; domestic abuse; family dysfunction; political corruption; addiction; environmental destruction; dwindling resources; problems in education; gender inequality; racism; homophobia. These problems are universal. Countries much richer and bigger than ours struggle with these ills. There are countries that have more severe problems than us and some that seem to have fewer, but every nation must work to elevate the safety and dignity of its citizens and residents.
On every continent, in every society, there are people striving to eradicate these problems. They are fighting it in their own way—by aggressive or passive means—to make the world one that someday we can all be proud to inhabit.
It can be discouraging for those striving. There are those actively seeking to stop change to contend with, and there are those who passively wish for change but never get off the couch.
It can also be a rough road because fixing one problem seems to lead to another: protect the coral reefs but put poor fishermen out of business; arrest the gang-bangers, but then the family falls apart as parents and children are separated. We feel like bugs caught in a sticky spider’s web, overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of the problems and the potential solutions.
Sometimes people don’t take action against it because they simply don’t know what to do. When politicians discuss the major problems of the nation, they tend to reduce it down to simple rhetoric. Slogans can be powerful, but they don’t really help us solve our problems.
None of these issues stand in isolation: poverty; addiction; mental illness; racial inequality; societal dogma; political strife and war; all these things contribute and compound the problem of domestic abuse, and domestic abuse contributes right back towards crime, addiction, failings in education, wasted resources, political impotency, and so forth.
In any form, violence reverberates like shockwaves through our world.
Since I can’t fix all the problems, I strive to change people’s attitudes about domestic violence and abuse. Traditionally viewed as “a private matter,” people tend to look the other way when neighbors or coworkers show signs of abuse. They don’t want to butt in on “other people’s business.” Except that violence is not a private matter, it is the business of society as a whole. So I make it my business to take it out from behind closed doors and onto the national stage.
It’s not enough, of course. I can’t fix this world alone.
So today I want to give some recognition to some of our sister organizations.
Mr. Carl Ryan of the Nicer Foundation, for example, strives to teach men and women conflict resolution and non-violent communication.
Ms. Laura Pascall, of the Reach Out And Touch Foundation strives to help the youth of this country escape the cycle of poverty and crime by empowering them and helping them find ways to become responsible citizens.
This tangled, sticky web of problems can seem daunting, and it is tempting to give up and hope for an afterlife free of it. Except that the only way to get out from under the web is to cut away each string as it wraps around our island.
That’s why I want to thank Mr. Ryan and Ms. Pascall. Because my efforts alone might seem futile or naïve, but when you put all our work together, we can make real changes.
It will require politicians to change laws.
It will require communities to build stronger programs to care for each other.
It will require changing what we teach our children in school and at home.
It will take neighbors and family members speaking up when they see something is wrong.
It will require men and women to learn new ways of handling conflict and disagreement.
We can change. Not by slogans or trim phrases, but by all of us working together—from the offices of Parliament to our family dinner tables—to make Trinidad a better place.
Give Shelter to the Weary
Domestic Violence doesn’t just happen to people far away. The victims are your friends; your coworkers; the lady in the shop. Most victims don’t leave their aggressor. Many can’t leave—they have nowhere to go. Abusers often financially isolate and control their victims, limiting the resources of those trying to get out.
No More Domestic Violence is looking to change that. We want to build emergency shelters and long-term housing solutions for victims and their children. We want to help them get out, to help them get safe, and to help them rebuild their lives.
We need your help.
Your contribution towards the construction and maintenance of shelters to be built across the island can make the difference. Nobody should carry the burden of abuse alone, and together, if we all contribute a little, massive things can be done.
In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we are giving away free ribbon pins to everyone who donates $15 or more towards these shelters.
Donate $100 or more and get a free autographed copy of Gail Gopaul’s book, No Regrets.
Help the people around you in your own community—give them the gift of safety.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month
October marks the beginning of DV awareness month.
One in three women and one in four men in the US suffers physical brutality at the hands of an intimate partner every year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
And in Trinidad, the statistics are equally grim. According to the Information and Communications office of the Ministry of Gender, a single magisterial district in Port of Spain handled 17,748 cases of domestic violence between the periods of 2012-2013.
More troubling, the number of actual charges brought against abusers was only 825 cases in 2014 and 625 in 2015, according to OSAC and the TT Police Service. Those numbers applied to the whole island, not just this one district in Port of Spain. This meant that thousands of incidents never even lead to an arrest, much less a conviction—and this doesn’t count the cases of abuse that never go reported because the victims are ashamed to come forward!
After I went public about my own abusive relationship, some of the most frequent questions I would get were “Why didn’t you press charges? Why didn’t you tell us what was happening?”
And honestly, I didn’t because I was ashamed. I was ashamed to admit what was happening to me, and I was devastated that someone I loved so much could be so cruel. I was also facing a powerful taboo. I thought that people who “air their dirty laundry,” somehow lacked self-restraint or poise.
But these taboos are false. They are put in place by society in order to protect the abuser and keep the abused in check and under control. I couldn’t break free until I realized that I wasn’t the one who was wrong or broken—the system was. I had to realize that just because “traditionally” a person can beat his/her partner (or child, or parent, or sibling, or niece/nephew) as long as he/she keeps it out of the public eye, doesn’t make it true or right.
Societies exist to protect and serve the individuals within, so when the society comes up with rules that aids the few (i.e. the abusers) and the expense of the many, it is time to break with tradition.
So how do we change rules?
We break the taboo. We break the silence. When our partner has hurt us, we speak out. We talk. We tell the police; we tell our family; we tell the courts; we tell our friends. We don’t hide; we don’t make excuses; we don’t lie or cover for the abuser—no matter how much we may love him/her—we tell our truth.
It is scary—especially if we are the first to say something—but speaking up with our heads held high gives others the courage to stand out in the open too.
I was so scared to tell my story. I was scared of what my husband would do; I was scared of how people would look at my family. I knew that if I could help just one person, change the statistics by just one number, that it would be worth it, but I worried that I was one woman against a whole society that wanted me to just shut up about it already.
But recently, a woman approached me and told me her own story of abuse—abuse that had been perpetrated against her since she was a teenager. “After reading your book, I finally got the courage; I’m going to get out. I’m finally going to get out,” she told me.
It brought tears to my eyes to hear her. For years, she had hidden in shame, afraid that the things done to her since she was a child were somehow her fault. She had been afraid that if she spoke up, her community would gossip and shun her, treating her like a ghost.
I am so proud of her, and so glad that she has taken this first step. It’s not an easy road, but it’s the right road.
So to all you ladies and gentlemen out there who believe that your supposedly-loving partners have a God-given right to harm you, control you, or belittle you, I have only one thing to say to you: